Mealmaker, George (1768–1808)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

George Mealmaker (1768-1808), by John Kay, 1838

George Mealmaker (1768-1808), by John Kay, 1838

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9918280

George Mealmaker (1768-1808), political transportee, was born on 10 February 1768 at Dundee, Scotland, the son of John Mealmaker, weaver, and his wife Alison, née Auchinleck. He came from a humble background but won modest affluence as a hand-loom weaver. He was a pioneer, active and extreme member of the 'Friends of Liberty' in Dundee early in 1791, a group formed to uphold the principles of the French revolution. In mid-1793 he wrote a broadsheet, inveighing against the 'despotism and tyranny' of the British government, and it was for publishing this that Thomas Palmer was transported. Mealmaker attended the convention at Edinburgh late in 1793, after which Maurice Margarot, Joseph Gerrald and William Skirving also met this fate. In the next months Mealmaker was secretary of the Dundee friends, who spread propaganda urging the militia not to fight against France. For this he was brought before the magistrates but no charge was laid against him.

Radical activity quietened in the next two years, although Mealmaker himself remained outspoken (Sermon … Delivered in 1795, London, nd); but he was quick to join the 'United Scotsmen', who in 1796 began to organize in imitation of their Irish namesakes. Indeed Mealmaker wrote the group's constitution, which asserted its 'whole aim' to be 'to secure Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage'; he also published The Moral and Political Catechism of Man (Edinburgh, 1797), which expounded such radicalism at length. Authority reacted, and in January 1798 Mealmaker was tried for sedition and administering unlawful oaths. After a prejudiced hearing in which the two charges were not distinguished he was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.

Mealmaker arrived in Sydney in the Royal Admiral in November 1800. He may at first have upheld his political interests, and in March 1802 rumours of convict rebellion involved him; but he denied the allegation and went unpunished. It was his craft, not his beliefs, which shaped his life in New South Wales. After becoming governor in 1800, Philip Gidley King had tried to establish a weaving industry but found no suitable manager. In August 1803 he appointed Mealmaker for four years. Supervising the work at the Female Factory, Parramatta, he put four looms to work, and King's accounts of the industry tell a thorough success story. Mealmaker received a conditional pardon and generous emoluments. However, his life ended unhappily. Governor William Bligh cared less about weaving than did King. In December 1807 fire partly destroyed the factory. On 30 March 1808 Mealmaker, destitute and apparently a drunkard, died from alcoholic suffocation and was buried at St John's, Parramatta. There his son by Mary Thomas had been baptized in 1805. Colonial life had ruined this forceful, self-assertive, interesting man.

On 23 November 1795 at Dundee, Mealmaker had married Marjory, daughter of John Thoms. She never left Dundee and died there on 16 November 1843, aged 68. An etching appears in John Kay, A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings, vols 1-2 (London, 1838).

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 4-7
  • M. Roe, ‘George Mealmaker, the Forgotten Martyr’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 43, part 6, 1957, pp 284-98.

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Mealmaker, George (1768–1808)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mealmaker-george-2441/text3253, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 June 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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